"I'll never let it happen, Woody," I said. Tears were running down my face and onto the pillow under my chin, betraying my life-long effort to conceal all emotions.
But since there wasn't anyone in the room besides Woody, I didn't care. I was looking straight into his perfect, copper eyes, while he stared up an me from the floor, confused. I'm sure he was just as frightened by my behavior as I was about my family's disgusting traditions.
"I promise, boy. I don't think you understand, but you'll have to stay close to me."
Woody was the kind of dog that loved to roam around and run. All. Day. Long. It was one of the reasons I loved him so much. He was a true wanderer and had a curious spirit, but in this situation his tendencies were more of an obstacle than anything.
I sighed. "How much I wish that you could understand me."
In response, he took a deep breath and sighed too. He closed his eyes, and I admired his beautiful, silky, long, black fur. After this week, I may never see his perfect fur again.
I shifted onto my back now. The large, round couch wasn't exactly comfortable, but then again, nothing in this house was. My family, including my parents and two sets of my aunts and uncles, all inherited this house when my great-grandmother passed away. She was rich and odd. She loved everything about traditional and grand presentations. Hence, the weird house.
But since we inherited it, my parents, along with my Uncle Mike, Aunt Tabitha, and grandma, chose to keep the house and live in it during the summertime. My other aunt, uncle, and their kids decided to distance themselves from the house and the family, which I didn't fully understand until now. In order to stay in the house, you had to follow my great-grandmother's rules.
So, ever since I was in third grade, I came to live here at least three months out of the year. Every year it was the same old, creepy, terrible place.
My great-grandmother's style wasn't exactly what I would call pleasant. She loved dark colors; Dark green, maroon, dark brown, literally any dark color. She also loved weird floral and patterned prints, which could be found on almost every piece of furniture or wall.
But the house was old, and we all know what happens to most old houses; Weird stuff starts happening.
Right then, I was downstairs in the main living room. I was looking up at the gigantic ceilings, and over to the left I could see the balcony for the second floor of the house. There was also a basement, which I refused to step foot in ever again, a huge lawn, and a barn-shed thing out in the wooded part of the property.
The house was, quite literally, a haunted mansion.
All of the sudden, I heard my mom in the kitchen. "Do you want some lunch, Daisy? I'm making sandwiches, and I can get out some grapes if you want them. Oh and-"
'Yeah, sure," I cut her off. But I did not want to get up. I didn't want to talk to my mom and act normal. What I'd discovered the night before horrified me. I wouldn't be able to look at my family the same way again.
So after a minute, I slowly stood up and, keeping my eyes on the ground, made my way to the kitchen. I heard Woody get up and start following behind me.
Yes, I thought. Stay close to me and hopefully you'll stay alive.
The kitchen only had two exits: One that opened up to the outside of the house and one on the inside near the living room.
I never understood the door to the outside. It went out to a little, circular clearing in the trees that came right up to the side of the house. But I was never allowed to go out there, and no one else went out there either.
The kitchen was filled with dark, wooden cabinets and a forest-green tile floor. My mother was standing in the corner with her back facing me, arranging a small pile of sandwiches on a tray.
"Everyone's outside on the deck, so I'm bringing these out. You should come out too, you know we don't have much time left here to enjoy it," my mom said.
"Thanks, but I'm reading in the house. The sun on the pages always bothers me."
"Oh." She turned and eyed me a little suspiciously, but I didn't seem to be in any sort of distress. "Well, take some food with you."
I went up to grab a sandwich and left as fast as I could, this time running upstairs to my bedroom with Woody scrambling behind me. I hated every part of the upstairs, but I thought it would be best to retreat to a space meant for only me, where no prying eyes could enter. Well, at least not from living people.
As soon as both of us were in the room, the bulky, wooden door slammed shut without my touching it. Woody barked.
I was a little frightened, but stuff like this happened to me all the time. I found my window open in the middle of the night when it was closed before. Doors would open and close without a single touch. Objects went missing and were later found somewhere in the house, on the floor. But the phenomena seemed to just happen to me, because whenever I tried to ask anyone else they just shooed the questions away.
But, especially now, I was 100% sure that the house was haunted. Haunted with dogs.
Well, also by my great-grandmother. I'd seen her ghost before, in the basement...
But the dog ghosts couldn't scare me. I knew they were innocent. When they took things and scattered them around the house I understood now that they were probably just playing. Maybe when the door opened and closed they were just running around in excitement and accidentally pushed it. Either way, I felt nothing but pity for the dogs.
So I flopped on my bed and woody jumped up to lay next to me. I knew then that if he were to become a ghost like the others, so would I.
"So, why exactly do we have this tradition?" I asked cautiously at the dinner table that night.
Everyone looked up at me. They all seemed a little uncomfortable by the topic, but not because it frightened them; Because they knew it frightened me.
"Well," my uncle Mike started. "Some of your ancestors, no idea who really, erm, started the tradition years ago. I think they did it because a hunting dog with some other people came up to the house and killed someone in the family." He cleared his throat and continued eating with his face directly over his plate, almost so his straight, black hair could touch his food.
"No, no, I don't think that's right, Mike," my mom said. "The anscestors' family dog did something bad, and so they had to put it down. Then the same thing happened with their next one, and so on. It just became a tradition after that."
"Really, Gabby? Because I'm pretty sure it has something to do with your grandmother and her weird tastes," my dad put in. Apparently, he'd been pretty uncomfortable when he first found out about my mother's family tradition years ago, but he'd adjusted quickly. I thought he must be soulless.
"No, listen," my grandma interjected in her croaky voice. "It was an accident many years ago, before I was born. They did it by mistake, and when they realized they enjoyed it, they continued doing it."
"If they enjoyed it then why do we only repeat it every ten years?" asked Aunt Tabitha.
"Legal reasons," my grandma said, nonchalantly.
The table was silent after that.
Four days passed by in a blur. It was now September 22, the day I'd been dreading.
The morning started out strangely normal. Everyone went about their business casually. But as the day went on, I noticed the candles being put up around the kitchen and dining room. Perhaps strangest of all, the door in the kitchen leading outside was also propped open. That was a first.
I avoided everyone in the house, except for Woody of course. I made sure he was with me at all times. He was my best and basically only friend since I was four. Now, I was fourteen and he was ten. There was no way I could let my loyal friend of ten years get hurt.
Over the past days, I'd come up with a plan to keep Woody safe. I was going to steal a car.
I knew how to drive a little because I'd had some practice with my dad over the summer. I knew where to find the keys, and which ways to go to get down the mountain and back into town...
I would probably have to improvise after that.
But before I could do anything I needed more information.
"So, mom," I said, coming out to the porch where she was reading in the sun. Her light-brown hair looked incredibly sleek under the sunlight, like it was reflecting the rays.
"Mmm," she said without looking up.
"I was just wondering about, like, the schedule? When do we... do everything?"
"Today?" She asked, like what I was talking about wasn't completely obvious.
"Well, we get it over with at seven-o-clock, and then have dinner afterwards. That's how it's always been."
"Okay." I paused. "Thanks."
This time she didn't say anything. I turned and left without another word.
I looked down at my watch. 6:47. There wasn't much time left.
Before I could take the truck and escape, my dad and Mike had decided to get some 'supplies' for tonight. No idea what we need any supplies for, but alright. Maybe an axe? But there are plenty in the barn. I couldn't think any more about it though, because I couldn't stop imagining Woody like that...
So instead of leaving in the truck, I'd decided to hide Woody. At least in this situation I wouldn't get in trouble. He was in the last place anyone would think to look; In the basement.
It took me some courage to go down those stairs, but I had no other choice. If my family found out what I'd done, they wouldn't think to check the basement because they knew about my fear of it.
I gave him a blanket and put him in one of the dog-cages down there. I had to put him really far in the back in case he started barking. I felt awful for leaving him in the dark down there, with all the ghosts. Each step I took deeper into the giant concrete rooms made me more and more terrified. I couldn't image how he felt, what with is super-doggy senses and all.
"Have you seen Woody anywhere, Daisy?" Startled, I looked up. My mom looked a little frantic.
"No, why? Is he missing?" I tried to look surprised.
"Yeah, we can't find him anywhere. I'm afraid we won't find him in time. I'll have to call Mike..." She continued muttering to herself as she walked away.
My mom was wearing her nice clothes, the ones she saved for special occasions.
"Alright Daisy, it's starting, let's go." My mom was standing in front of me, waiting.
"Did you find Woody?"
"No, but I called Mike and he took care of it."
"Oh." I was relieved. Even if Woody was in a horrible place, all alone, at least he was still safe.
I got up and followed my mom to the kitchen. The kitchen?
But instead of stopping next to the island, she continued walking, right towards the outside door.
And I thought the situation couldn't get any weirder.
I followed her outside. By now, it was dark and you could almost see the stars if it weren't for the surrounding tree branches. There was a fire in the middle of the small clearing and a bunch of big, metal things lying next to it. I though it would be best if I didn't think about it.
"We're back!" I heard a male voice call from the house. My dad and Uncle Mike were soon outside with us, followed by my aunt and grandma. My dad was carrying a large box, and I started imaging what could be inside.
"I made sure it was an old one, sorry, but I didn't want to use anything that another person would want," Mike said.
My mom looked a little disappointed, but nodded.
Don't try to figure it out, Daisy, I reminded myself.
Things happened quickly after that.
I had to look away when I heard the yelps.
I had to close my eyes when I heard the pops and sizzles coming from the fire.
Even though I knew he was safe in the house, each cry made me think of Woody's terrified, pained face dangling from an unmoving body, his wet, black fur shining in the glow of the flames...
"Okay, dinner time," I heard my mom say after a while. How could she act so normal after that? She must have been used to it by now.
I shuffled into the kitchen and kept my eyes down the whole time, but I knew everyone could see the tears anyway. I didn't care. I felt lightheaded and my thoughts were cloudy. Everything felt like a dream- No, a nightmare.
Soon, my mom and aunt brought out the plates of food to everyone at the table. There was a variety of things on my plate, and they all looked delicious. There was salad and some sort of rice, maybe risotto? There was also what looked like a steak but a little undercooked.
Even though I knew I couldn't eat anything, I choked back the snot and tears to speak. "What's for dinner?"
My mom looked up and answered, smiling. "A roast."